Friday, October 26, 2007

Degrees of Confidence in Belief

I've come to believe that it is important to state your degree of confidence, or at least be aware of it, in any assertions you make. The reason is that there are many things of which we are uncertain, and that fact itself has a lot of implications.
Here's an example I've found myself running into a lot: given the existence of a market failure, you can implement a government solutions or allow the market to provide a solution. Both solutions are not sure to succeed. If we're not completely confident in either approach working, what can we do? I think the answer is to first weigh your confidence in both outcomes, and which ever you think is more likely to succeed, you choose. (This example is actually more complicated, because government intervention tends to creates certain institutions which has effects outside of the issue at hand.)
I think this point is pretty obvious, but intellectual discourse, especially in philosophy, often simply presents arguments consisting of various premises, which are assumed to be true, and a conclusion. But what if you are uncertain about what the facts are?

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Brief Summary of How I've Changed My Mind

I attended what is seen by most as an extremely left-wing liberal arts college. For most of my time there I was fairly hostile to most of the predominant ideas floating around campus. Since then, however, I've become less emotional about certain issues, and have changed many of my positions, some of them, though certainly not all, closer to those of the left. I thought I'd offer a brief summary of how my views have changed on a couple of issues.

9/11 happened about a week or so into my college career. I was never really emotional about the attacks, but I did support the invasion of Afghanistan for what I saw as good, non-nationalistic reasons. I then also came to support the invasion of Iraq, for a lot of the reasons that were floating around previous to the start of that war.
I've pretty much pulled a 180 on my position on war, from fairly supportive of extensive U.S. military intervention to an extreme skepticism that verges on isolationism. The reasons for this, as I see it, are as follows:
1. The clear failure of the war in Iraq to achieve any end worth the loss of life and enormous use of resources the war has claimed.
2. A better awareness of the enormous costs of previous wars, and an emerging skepticism of the gains from them are as large as is often claimed.
3. The discovery of the simple inference that we can expect the military to perform about as well as any other government program.
4. The observation that civil liberties and other freedoms tend to erode during wartime.
5. War has often correlated with the expansion of the state.

This is an area where my views are closer to the those typical of the left then they were before, but remain different in important ways. I've moved closer to the left in the following views:
1. Race matters. It's a mistake to allow your egalitarianism blind you to the importance of race and the perception of race in American society.
2. Institutional racism exists.

I still remain far from the left, however:
1. The state should not attempt to right the above problems through income redistribution or regulations such as anti-discrimination laws.
2. The state, not 'capitalism' bears the majority of responsibility for racial problems in the U.S. today, thus:
3. These problems are more likely to go away in a libertarian society than in the the one the left envisions.

I'll add more as they occur to me.